Writing more than a century before the McDonaldization of the Church, Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) exposed the fallacy of faith in structures for evangelization. It is a “Quixotic imagination, that on the strength of churches alone, viewed but in the light of material apparatus, we were to Christianize the population – expecting of these new erections, that, like so many fairy castles, they were, of themselves, to transform every domain in which they were placed into a moral fairyland” (Works 18:109). While perhaps most evangelicals would probably deny the bald proposition that the building can birth a believer, yet it is very easy subconsciously to think that outward can allure the natural man out of his state of spiritual rebellion. The fact is, if you build it, they just won’t come. It is fleshly to think otherwise, for the arm of the flesh – and the fleshly mind – are powerless.
Yes, but what if it is well stocked with professionals? Professional preachers, counsellors, and administrators? All with D.Mins? What if the attractive building is complemented with wide array of wonderful programs for young and old, and for every other conceivable demographic slice? If you build that, will they come? No doubt. But then there is coming (Jn. 6:24-26), and there is coming (Jn. 6:65-66)!
Yet, church buildings are of value. Chalmers believed as much and zealously campaigned for the provision of more church buildings in his day. By his efforts, more than 200 were built in the 1830s throughout Scotland. But buildings are nothing unless they are furnished with a faithful ministry. What is more, he contended, they must not serve the public indiscriminately. To the church and its ministry a fixed, geographical district ought to be assigned for its regular and faithful cultivation. A church ought to be a neighborhood church, a parish church, with a busy parish minister.
Build that, and they will come. Those whom the Father draws, that is.